In 2021, a business partner’s resignation forced New Jersey chef AJ Sankofa to temporarily close his artisanal pasta shop, and even when the store reopened a few months later, the business wasn’t quite the same.
According to Scripps News, Sankofa was unexpectedly contacted by the Food Network via his Instagram account, asking if he and his business ESO Artisanal Pasta would like to apply for a seat on The Great Food Truck Race.
The ESO team of Sankofa, his wife Kristin Gambarian, and their friend Matt McFadden received their own food truck after passing multiple rounds of auditions and landing a slot to compete against other chef teams with their old-world Italian-style artisanal pasta and sauces.
Between February and April of last year, they were transported to California to compete, with the results being made public in June. Sankofa shared that, apart from publicity, participating in the Food Network was educational. Prior to this experience, the three chefs representing ESO Pasta had never run a food truck. They discovered that making artisanal pasta in a small space is challenging after learning how to operate within the restrictions of a food truck. The team was the first to serve pasta in the food truck series.
ESO Artisanal placed third out of nine teams after surviving six episodes before being eliminated.
Daily Record noted that although they didn’t win the $50,000 top prize, the ESO team returned from California with a new sense of self, admirers from all around the country, and a number of prospects, including a job offer from presenter Tyler Florence.
“We get people from Canada, from all over, who saw us, and they wanted to try our pasta,” Gambarian noted. Upon their return, the crew became busy in its retail store on Elm Street processing orders for its renowned fresh, high-end pasta and sauce requests that they received from new fans across the nation.
In June last year, the team said it was going to start cooking for private parties while working toward the longer-term objective of starting their own restaurant.